Sarat Chandra IAS Academy

Current Affairs of 28th October -2020

 

General Studies-2:

Governance, Polity and Constitution

  1. Amended and notified land laws for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir
  2. Supreme Court hearings on Electoral bonds
  3. Institutions of Eminence Process to be mapped with world university rankings: Education Minister

General Studies-3

  1. Infrastructure Energy
    India’s Discom stress:
  2. Environment and Biodiversity:
    Himalayan Brown Bear
  3. Science and Technology:
    NISAR

 

1) Amended and notified land laws for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir

Why in news?

  • In a decision that mainstream political parties in Kashmir said stokes fears of demographic change, the Centre on Monday amended and notified land laws for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and explicitly omitted the protection earlier available to its ‘permanent residents’.

What are the amended laws?

  • The amended laws open up urban or non-agricultural land for purchase by outsiders, permit contract farming on agricultural lands, provide for setting up of an industrial development corporation, and also insulate zones identified for development from application of various laws that earlier ensured ownership remained with ‘permanent residents’.
  • The laws, as amended, do not place any restrictions on purchase of farm land by non-J&K agriculturists, and also do not impose limits on the quantum of area for building a residence or a shop, as it exists in certain hilly states including Himachal Pradesh.
  • These new amendments are, however, not applicable to the Union Territory of Ladakh.
  • It is a massive assault on the rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and is grossly unconstitutional
    Recent changes made
  • A notification published in the official gazette on Monday shows that the reference to ‘permanent residents of the State’ has been removed from laws that provide for housing for economically weaker sections and low-income groups.
  • Further, the government can now prescribe dimensions for such sites; earlier they were fixed and specified in the law itself.
  • Land acquired by the government for industrial or commercial purposes can now be allowed to be disposed of or sold to anyone.
    Earlier, only ‘permanent residents’ of Jammu and Kashmir could purchase such land.
  • In amendments to the Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Reforms Act, the Centre has said no person shall transfer land to any person other than the “Government, or its agencies and instrumentalities”.
  • Earlier, it was limited to “Government of Jammu and Kashmir”. It has also said that nothing shall prohibit transfer of ownership of land for ‘contract farming’, or grant of lease or mortgage for loan. Earlier, it was limited to mortgage for loan.
  • Some crucial amendments have also been made to the Jammu and Kashmir Development Act, 1970. The Centre has introduced Section 11A to the Act which protects notified development zones from application of Land Revenue Act and Agrarian Reforms Act.
  • “Upon coming into operation of the master plan or a zonal plan, the land use permitted in the area covered there under shall only be as provided in terms of such master or zonal plan.
  • The provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976, Jammu and Kashmir Land Revenue Act, Samvat 1996 or any other law for the time being in force requiring any permission to change the usage of any land, shall not be applicable to any land so covered,” states Section 11A.
  • However, some protection is extended through amendments to the Jammu and Kashmir Land Revenue Act.
  • Through insertion of Section 133 H in the Agrarian Reforms Act, the Centre has completely barred sale of agricultural land to “non-agriculturist”, but it has provided for several situations under which sale can still happen.
  • It has said that such land can be transferred to Government or “a Company or a Corporation or a Board established by or under a statute and owned and controlled by the Government or a Government Company as defined in the Companies Act, 2013” provided it is used for ‘public purposes’.
  • Such transfers can also happen in favour of public trusts for ‘charitable purposes’.
  • The government can also decide to transfer agricultural land in favour of “a person or an institution for the purpose of promotion of healthcare or senior secondary or higher or specialised education”.
  • The Government can “allow transfer of land, as defined in the said section, in favour of any person, institution or corporation, for such industrial or commercial or housing purposes or agricultural purposes or any other public purpose as may be notified by the Government for industrial and commercial development of the Union Territory.”
  • However, all such “non-agriculturists” would have to use the allotted land only for purposes intended during allotment and would never be recognised as agriculturists.
  • The Centre has also diluted restrictions on conversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural land. Earlier such conversion could only be done only with the permission of the Revenue Minister. It can now be done with the permission of the District Collector.
  • Through insertion of a new section, special protection has been given to grazing land or those that grow fuel and fodder, albeit they too can be converted with the Collector’s permission.
  • Through amendments to Section 16 of the Act, the government has opened doors for acquisition of land for purposes of development under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.
  • The government has removed the reference to ‘permanent residents’. The new reading of the Section states that the concerned Authority may dispose of any land acquired by the government to anyone on conditions it deems fit for development.
  • The Centre has introduced a new chapter to the Act for establishment of Jammu and Kashmir Industrial Development Corporation.
  • The function of JKIDC would be “to promote and assist in the rapid and orderly establishment, growth and development of industries in the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir” where it shall develop land for establishment of industries, and establish and manage industrial estates.
  • JKIDC shall have the power “to acquire and hold such property, both movable and immovable as the Corporation may deem necessary
  • In Section 3, which deals with the notification of local area for development and with the constitution of a development authority, the Centre has inserted a new clause that gives government powers to declare an area as “strategic” on the request of the armed forces.

Critics by Gupkar Alliance

  • National Conference Vice President Omar Abdullah said, “J&K has been put up for sale and left bereft of any basic protections.
  • The amendments add to the fear of demographic changes. They want to alter the character of this place.”
  • The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (an alliance of political parties including National Conference, PDP, CPI, CPM and People’s Conference) described the Centre’s action as a “huge betrayal”. “
  • It is a massive assault on the rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and is grossly unconstitutional

People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration

An alliance of political parties including National Conference, PDP, CPI, CPM and People’s Conference) described the Centre’s action as a “huge betrayal”.

 

2) Supreme Court hearings on Electoral bonds:

Why in news?

  • An application has been filed in the Supreme Court for an urgent hearing of a pending petition against the electoral bonds scheme, especially on account of the opening of the sale window for electoral bonds right before the Bihar Assembly elections.

What is electoral bond?

  • An electoral bond is like a promissory note that can be bought by any Indian citizen or company incorporated in India from select branches of State Bank of India.
  • The citizen or corporate can then donate the same to any eligible political party of his/her choice.
  • The bonds are similar to bank notes that are payable to the bearer on demand and are free of interest.
  • An individual or party will be allowed to purchase these bonds digitally or through cheque.

When was electoral bond introduced?

  • The electoral bonds were introduced with the Finance Bill (2017).
  • On January 29, 2018 the Narendra Modi-led NDA government notified the Electoral Bond Scheme 2018.

How to use electoral bonds?

  • Using electoral bonds is quite simple.
  • The bonds will be issued in multiples of Rs 1,000, Rs 10,000, Rs 100,000 and Rs 1 crore (the range of a bond is between Rs 1,000 to Rs 1 crore).
  • These will be available at some branches of SBI.
  • A donor with a KYC-compliant account can purchase the bonds and can then donate them to the party or individual of their choice.
  • Now, the receiver can encash the bonds through the party’s verified account. The electoral bond will be valid only for fifteen days.

When are the bonds available for purchase?

  • The electoral bonds are available for purchase for 10 days in the beginning of every quarter.
  • The first 10 days of January, April, July and October has been specified by the government for purchase of electoral bonds.
  • An additional period of 30 days shall be specified by the government in the year of Lok Sabha elections.

Electoral bonds: Conditions

  • Any party that is registered under section 29A of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951 (43 of 1951) and has secured at least one per cent of the votes polled in the most recent General elections or Assembly elections is eligible to receive electoral bonds.
  • The party will be allotted a verified account by the Election Commission of India (ECI) and the electoral bond transactions can be made only through this account.
  • The electoral bonds will not bear the name of the donor. Thus, the political party might not be aware of the donor’s identity.

Are electoral bonds taxable?

  • In February 2017, the then finance minister Arun Jaitley said that the donations would be tax deductible.
  • Hence, a donor will get a deduction and the recipient, or the political party, will get tax exemption, provided returns are filed by the political party.

Restrictions that were done away with after the introduction of the electoral bond scheme

  • Earlier, no foreign company could donate to any political party under the Companies Act
  • A firm could donate a maximum of 7.5 per cent of its average three year net profit as political donations according to Section 182 of the Companies Act
  • As per the same section of the Act, companies had to disclose details of their political donations in their annual statement of accounts.

The government moved an amendment in the Finance Bill to ensure that this proviso would not be applicable to companies in case of electoral bonds.

Thus, Indian, foreign and even shell companies can now donate to political parties without having to inform anyone of the contribution.

What does the Supreme Court have to say on electoral bonds?

  • On April 12, 2019 the Supreme Court asked all the political parties to submit details of donations received through electoral bonds to the ECI.
  • It also asked the Finance Ministry to reduce window of purchasing electoral bonds from 10 days to five days.
  • The apex court is yet to fix a date for hearing other pleas against the electoral bonds.

 

3) Institutions of Eminence Process to be mapped with world university rankings: Education Minister

Why in news?

  • The progress of Institutions of Eminence (IoE) will be mapped with indicators of renowned international rankings QS and Times Higher Education, and an incentive mechanism will be developed for those institutes which are performing well, Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ said on Monday.

Institutions of Eminence scheme

  • This scheme under the Union HRD ministry aims to project Indian institutes to global recognition.
  • The selected institutes will enjoy complete academic and administrative autonomy.
  • Only higher education institutions currently placed in the top 500 of global rankings or top 50 of the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) are eligible to apply for the eminence tag.
  • The private Institutions of Eminence can also come up as green field ventures provided the sponsoring organisation submits a convincing perspective plan for 15 years.

Significance

  • These institutions will not be subject to UGC inspections, and are free to set their own courses and curriculum, fee structure and merit-based admission systems.
  • Each university will be required to sign a MoU with the Ministry, laying out its plan to achieve the objective of becoming a world-class institution.
  • They will have complete academic, administrative and financial autonomy.
  • The public institutions on the list will then be eligible for a government grant of 1,000 crore.

QS World Rankings:

  • QS World University Rankings is an annual publication of university, rankings by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS).
  • Previously known as Times Higher Education–QS World University Rankings, the publisher had collaborated with Times Higher Education (THE) magazine to publish its international league tables from 2004 to 2009 before both started to announce their own versions.
  • QS then chose to continue using the pre-existing methodology, while THE adopted a new methodology to create their rankings

 

4) India’s Discom stress:

  • Distribution Companies (DisComs) have been called the lynchpin but also the weakest link in the electricity chain.
  • For all of India’s global leadership for growth of renewable energy, or ambitions of smart energy, the buck stops with the DisComs, the utilities that typically buy power from generators and retail these to consumers. Long gone are the days of scarcity of power;
  • While the physical supply situation has mostly improved, the financial picture has not brightened much — and this was before COVID-19.

More loan than stimulus

  • The Indian government responded to COVID-19’s economic shock with a stimulus package of 20-lakh crore, out of which 90,000 crore was earmarked for DisComs (later upgraded to 1,25,000 crore).
  • While it was called a stimulus, it is really a loan, meant to be used by DisComs to pay off generators.
  • Our recent study on DisComs shows a much graver picture than one that can be solved by a fill-up, even though such a liquidity injection is required (but probably insufficient).
  • Newspaper reports abound with stories of how DisComs owe one lakh crore rupees to generators, and without such an infusion the chain will collapse.
  • Unfortunately, the dues to generators are several times higher than this number, and, worse, the total short-term dues of DisComs are multiple times higher, which excludes long-term debt.

How did this magic figure of one-lakh crore capture popular imagination?

  • This figure is roughly what the government’s PRAAPTI (or Payment Ratification and Analysis in Power procurement for bringing Transparency in Invoicing of generators) portal shows for DisCom dues to generators.
  • However, what is not widely appreciated is that the portal is a voluntary compilation of dues, and is not comprehensive.
  • The Power Finance Corporation (PFC)’s Report on Utility Workings for 2018-19 showed dues to generators were 2, 27, 000 crore, and this is well before COVID-19.
  • It also showed similar Other Current Liabilities. Our analysis shows that what has happened over the years is that DisComs have delayed their payments upstream (not just to generators but others as well) — in essence, treating payables like an informal loan.

But why do DisComs not pay on time?

  • Utilities for inefficiency, including high losses, called Aggregate Technical and Commercial (AT&C) losses, a term that spans everything from theft to lack of collection from consumers.

Why these losses?

  • First, regulators themselves have failed to fix cost-reflective tariffs thus creating Regulatory Assets, which are effectively IOUs, which are to be recovered through future tariff hikes.
  • Second, about a seventh of DisCom cost structures is meant to be covered through explicit subsidies by State governments.
  • Third, consumers owed DisComs over 1.8 lakh crore in FY 2018-19, booked as trade receivables.

Why are States considered as defaulters?

  • State governments are the biggest defaulters, responsible for an estimated a third of trade receivables, besides not paying subsidies in full or on time.
  • This earlier equilibrium of increasing the dues as well as relying on continued subsidies (not to mention extensive cross subsidies between consumer categories) all worked as long as there was steady growth.
  • To begin with, COVID-19 has completely shattered incoming cash flows to utilities.
  • On the flip side, reduced demand for electricity did not save as much because a large fraction of DisCom cost structures are locked in through Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) that obligate capital cost payments, leaving only fuel savings with lower off take.
  • If there is a haircut to be taken, all the risk and future obligations should not be placed on DisComs alone.
  • Generators, transmission companies, and lending institutions must all chip in.

So what is the solution other than simply throwing money at the problem?

  • Improving AT&C losses are important, but will not be sufficient.
  • We need a complete overhaul of the regulation of electricity companies and their deliverables.
  • Much of inefficiency is tolerated in the name of the poor but they do not get quality supply.
  • We need to apply common sense metrics of lifeline electricity supply instead of the political dole out of free electricity even for those

who may not deserve such support.

  • For the rest, regulators must allow cost-covering tariffs.
  • The financial problems of DisComs have been brewing for many years, and it is unlikely that a silver bullet, even privatisation, can solve the problems overnight.
  • However, if business as usual was not even good enough before COVID-19, it will not be workable for the current national needs of quality, affordable, and sustainable power.

 

5) Himalayan Brown Bear:

Why in news?

Recently, a study on the Himalayan brown bear has predicted a significant reduction in suitable habitat and biological corridors of the 6species in the climate change scenario.

About Himalayan Brown Bear

  • Also known as Himalayan red bear, isabelline bear or Dzu-the

Distribution

  • It is found in 23 protected areas including Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Jammu and Kashmir.
  • It is the largest carnivore in the highlands of Himalayans

Conservation status

  • IUCN Status: while the brown bear as a species is classified as least concern by the IUCN
  • It is listed under Schedule 1 of the Indian wildlife (protection) act 1972

 

6) NISAR:

 

  • Satellite to Be Launched By 2022.
  • The NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission is a joint project of NASA and ISRO.
  • It has been started to co-develop and launch a dual-frequency synthetic aperture radar on the Earth observation satellite.
  • It will be the first radar imaging satellite that uses the dual frequencies.
  • The satellite would be launched from India on a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle on a Sun-synchronous orbit.

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